Is there an addiction gene? The COMT hypothesis

Is there an addiction gene?  The COMT hypothesis

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By Jean-Marc Sobczyk MD (France), ND

What is COMT? 

Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) is an enzyme that metabolizes brain hormones, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These hormones help to regulate heartbeat, breathing rate, focus and attention, memory, mood, and pain perception (heard about the fight or flight response, how the body reacts when we sense a danger?). COMT inactivates estrogens in male and females.

In the brain, catechol-O-methyltransferase helps break down certain chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These chemicals conduct signals from one nerve cell to another. Catechol-O-methyltransferase is particularly important in an area at the front of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which organizes and coordinates information from other parts of the brain. This region is involved with personality, planning, inhibition of behaviors, abstract thinking, emotion, and working (short-term) memory. (1)

What happens when Dopamine levels are low? 

We are losing our ability to focus and concentrate, we become anxious.

On the positive side we are less sensitive to pain

We can also start feeling the need to reach to substances that can increase our dopamine quickly and help us feeling good. This type of behavior makes us more prone to suffer from addictive behaviors (food or substances helping raising dopamine include chocolate, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs)

What can make our dopamine low?

  • Genetics: a fast COMT enzyme metabolizes very quickly dopamine. A slow MTHFR enzyme helps make SAMe and essential component derived from B12, Folate and Methionine.
  • Low iron 
  • Infections (yeast overgrowth and others). Did you ever wonder why you cannot focus or concentrate when you are sick?

What can make your Dopamine High? 

  • Stimulants such as caffeine, green tea, chocolate 
  • Tobacco
  • Various drugs (cocaïne, amphetamines,  etc…)
  • Genetics: A slow COMT enzyme (this is protective for addiction) but will also make you more sensitive to pain and may increase estrogen (PMS symptoms, Fibroids, menstrual issues…)

If we look at the current research, we find that: 

  • Although there are reports indicating a positive association with COMT polymorphisms and addiction, the majority of the studies failed to detect such a link between them with one exception, smoking. It is unlikely that there would be any single gene that could be designated as ‘the addiction gene’. (2) It is more plausible to consider that multiple genes interacting together are responsible for addictive behaviors.
  • Another research paper looked at the Influence of dopamine-related genes on craving, impulsivity, and aggressiveness in Korean males with alcohol use disorder and the study supported the idea that genetic variations in the dopamine system may contribute to alcohol cravings and impulsivity. (3)
  • Another study looked at the correlation between COMT gene activity and risk of opioid abuse (4) and suggested that there was higher risk of abuse linked to a fast functioning COMT enzyme. 

How to offset potential weaknesses which may contribute to addictive behaviors. 

  • Get tested for COMT and MTHFR genes variants. DNA testing companies have started to provide this type of information and can help predict risks associated to opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs uses.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, adequate nutrition providing essential Minerals and Vitamins for a healthy COMT metabolism: Magnesium, Folates, B12, Zinc, and iron. 
  • Limit your exposure to chemicals and heavy metals, check potential chronic infections if you feel you are struggling with memory, focus, and anxiety. 

If you want to know more about this topic you can contact Dr Jean-marc Sobczyk at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. Call or email us to schedule your free 10 minute visit with Dr Sobczyk, 310-451-8880 or email us at info@drsobczyk.com

Jean Marc Sobczyk, MD (France), ND, specializes in Genetics, MTHFR & Environmental Toxicity, you can schedule an appointment with him by calling 310-451-8880 or emailing us at info@akashacenter.com

Resources

  1. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/COMT
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20975619
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31559529
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31493434
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